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A Night at the Sephardic Film Festival

By Curt Schleier

by Curt Schleier

October 28, 1999 | 8:00 pm

He played a scumbag ex-husband in "First Wives Club"; harried father in both "Clueless" and "A Night at the Roxbury"; and President Richard Nixon in this year's "Dick." And this week, Dan Hedaya was recognized for his prolific body of work at the Third Annual Los Angeles Sephardic Film Festival (alongside fellow actor Shaun Toub and film editor Kent Beyda) -- something he never anticipated while growing up in Bensonhurst.

"I had no real professional plans whatsoever to become an actor," says the humble Hedaya, who, while attending Tufts, stumbled onto some acting classes -- an alternative to the university's fraternity scene.

Hedaya's father originated from Aleppo, Syria, and moved to Brooklyn, where Hedaya was born and raised. Following college, Hedaya worked as a junior high school teacher while continuing to study acting on the side. After seven years, he quit teaching, and, becoming a waiter, officially embraced the decision to act professionally.

Hedaya told The Journal that he arrived in Los Angeles in 1980, and landed a role on a three-part "Hill Street Blues" story. Soon after, he was cast on "Cheers" as Carla's charismatic ex, Nick Tortelli.

"It's been a real journey," says the unassuming actor of his career, which he says he has never looked back on long enough to analyze. Having tackled parts both dramatic and comedic, the ubiquitous Hedaya does not differentiate between the two genres when it comes to his approach: "You just try to create something that's real."

Come December, Hedaya will share screen time with Denzel Washington in Norman Jewison's latest, "Hurricane: The 16th Round." He will also appear in "The Crew," starring Burt Reynolds and Richard Dreyfuss, and the remake of "Shaft." But Hedaya admits that people will still approach him regarding his TV work, particularly the Tortelli role.

"It was short-lived but I liked it a lot," says Hedaya with a chuckle of the "Cheers" spin-off, "The Tortellis." "One day, I'm going to sit down and watch them."

The Los Angeles Sephardic Film Festival will run Oct. 31 - Nov. 4 at Laemmle's Music Hall Theater, 9036 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills.

"Soleil" - a French/Algerian production, starring Sophia Loren as a Jewish mother in Vichy-occupied Algiers during World War II, will screen with a short called "Bayit" on Oct. 31. The film presentation is preceded by a filmmakers panel, free to the public; On Nov. 2, "Egoz," an Israeli-Moroccan production set in 1950s Casablanca, is scheduled to run with the Egyptian/American short "I Miss The Sun"; and on Nov. 4, the festival will culminate with "The Shealtiels: A Family Saga," a Greek/Solonkian collaboration tracing one family's roots from the Spanish Inquisition onward, and the Iranian short, "The Making of a Man."

For information and to RSVP for the film festival, contact the Sephardic Educational Center at (310) 441-9361.

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